When I was in high school, let’s just say that I had a really hard time following all of the rules. Because of the way I was brought up, being (knowingly) disobedient also brought on a lot of GUILT. (I had to use capitalization to emphasize its power to soul crush.) I wanted to be disobedient but without the soul crushing guilt. In order to have my cake and eat it too, I came across the Bible verse in Matthew 7:1-2, which says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.0” What I took this to mean was that as long as I never judged anyone about anything, God could not judge me. Therefore, I could do whatever I wanted, basically judgment free from God.
Yeah, I was pretty sneaky. While this view, I realize now as an adult, is not 100% copacetic1, it also really helped me. I started high school over 20 years ago (saying that makes me feel super old). So, for over 20 years, I have been actively trying not to be judgmental. This is copacetic.
I’m not saying that I am perfect at it, because I’m NOT. I fall short so much. But this saying of Mother Teresa is 100% correct – “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.2” What matters is the condition of our hearts. If our hearts are tuned into love, understanding, and acceptance, we will be able to love more and judge less. This is extremely difficult to do. That’s why I’m sharing three things that have helped me on my journey.
You’re Insecure; Don’t Know What for
I think one of the first steps in trying to be less judgmental is understanding where the inclination to judge comes from. It’s our own insecurities. We do it just to make ourselves feel better. It temporarily makes us feel more beautiful, smarter, cooler, more sophisticated or more righteous than whoever it is we are passing judgment on. However, when the darkness comes and we are alone, we feel the inherent emptiness of judging others. In these moments, our own insecurities will make us feel even worse. So, when you find yourself judging others in your mind, think about what it is about yourself that makes you want to push down someone else to feel better. Realize that you are okay, and that you are beautiful and amazing, and you don’t need to result to this kind of behavior in order to feel good about yourself.
Another reason that we pass judgment on others is because we like control – to be in charge. When we judge others by our standards, it is like we are their bosses. It somehow gives us power to seemingly have the final say. I like to be in control, so I know it is very hard to relinquish any kind of power. However, if we let go of this kind of power (which really isn’t power at all), we find that we are more empowered. Our lives will actually become less stressful as we realize that we don’t need to worry about what happens after someone else makes a decision. We really need to only worry about the decisions that we make. Whether you believe in God or karma or whatever, you can relax knowing that pronouncing judgment is not a burden you have to carry.
I find if you seem to automatically think the worst of others, it helps to rewrite this pattern of behavior by actively thinking three nice things about everyone you see. So, instead of calling the person who cut you off a moron, you could notice that they keep the outside of their car clean, that they have a humorous bumper sticker, or that they are driving a nice car. Trust me, these (nicer) thoughts do not come automatically. However, I can tell you, by experience, that the more you think them, the more that you think others are thinking kindly of you, the nicer you begin to think about yourself. As you gain confidence, you’ll be less likely to have judgy thoughts. I have included a chart which explains this cycle of awesome below.
Think Twice, Speak Once
This is probably the hardest step: keeping our judgy thoughts to ourselves. It is so natural for us to sit around and talk about other people who we may find inferior in some ways. Particularly, if someone else has hurt us or someone we know, we might want to broadcast it from the rooftops how much this person is scum. One time, as a sort of revenge, I publicly (in an online journal) called out people who had really hurt my feelings in high school, using their first and last names in my post. At the time, it felt pretty sweet. However, I realized afterward how immature I was being, and that pronouncing judgment on them was worse than the hurt they caused me. I have since deleted the post.
This also means avoiding gossip as much as possible. I try to make sure that whenever I am speaking about others, I use my words to lift instead of destroy. Am I 100% effective at this? By no means. However, I have found that when you speak well about other people, your friends will trust you, knowing that your propensity is to stick up for anyone in conversation. When people start talking about someone, and it starts to get gossipy, try to change the subject, say only positive things about the subject, stay silent, or excuse yourself from the conversation. There is no need to do this in a pretentious or self-righteous manner.
When I am out and about, I sometimes get a lot of stares because of my physical disability. There aren’t many people out there with wheelchairs operated by mouth. I realize that I am a rarity, so I don’t really get offended or judge others for overextending their curiosity levels into the realm of rudeness. I put myself in their shoes, and I don’t pass judgment on them for being naturally curious.
It is really hard for me to be nonjudgmental when it comes to neck and face tattoos. I’m sorry! This is my weakness. I don’t understand what would compel individuals to make that kind of decision. It’s not a part of my culture, and I would never personally decide to do it. It is really difficult to put myself in their shoes. So, when I can’t really do that successfully, the important thing is to treat everyone like a human being. Don’t think of them as the neck tattoo, think of them as Brian, or Jessica, or Matilda, or Scotty – another human being on this earth, just trying to figure things out. (If anyone reading this has a neck or face tattoo, I do not mean to offend you! Just because I don’t understand that particular decision you made, does not mean I don’t love you!)
This is a hard habit to break. Even though I have been actively trying to break it for over 20 years, I’m still not perfect at it. However, I can personally testify that it is worth breaking. At my church, we have a song that I love; its lyrics are: “Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly? In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.3” The truth is this: if you aren’t perfect, you don’t have the right to judge. I believe that only one person was perfect, and given the opportunity to pronounce judgment, He didn’t4. Let us try to more effectively follow this example by understanding where our propensity to judge comes from, watching what we say, and practicing empathy.
I can promise this: As you gradually become less and less judgmental, you will feel better about yourself and it will become easier to love others. Jean-Paul Sartre said that “Hell is other people5.” However, if we give up judging others, we will find that Heaven is other people, too.
1 The reason that I now believe that I cannot do just whatever I want as long as I’m not judging others is that I realize that certain actions, even if I am perfect at being nonjudgmental, will lead my heart further from my God. When all is said and done, what matters most is the condition of our hearts, and our hearts will be in a bad way if our actions are not aligned with our beliefs.